#Aftermath || Invest in women, now!


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Invest in women, now!

By Suneeta Dhar

Suneeta Dhar is a feminist activist, trainer and facilitator of change processes. She is active in the women’s movement and has supported several grassroots and leadership development initiatives on women’s rights thereby building bridges and alliances across diverse sectors. Suneeta is a co-founder of the South Asia Women Foundation – India.


Over the last few decades, work on women’s rights and movement building has received global visibility and attention, though it has not been matched with sustained funding. The Fourth World Conference on Women (1995) held in Beijing, considered to be one of the major achievements of the global and local women’s movements generated a broad-based public support for women’s equality. Women from the global South played a critical role in framing and advancing their concerns and advocated for resources.

However, 25 years down the line, we learn that no country has achieved gender equality in its truest sense. Nor is any country set to achieve it by 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) Gender Index, by Equal Measures 2030, notes that 2.8 billion women and girls currently live in countries that are not doing enough to improve women’s lives. And more than half of the countries have scored poorly on efforts to achieve the SDG 5 – a standalone goal to end gender inequality and empower women, that was a result of major global organising by women’s groups.

The world today is replete with structural inequalities, exclusion, prejudice and gender discrimination, where women and girls in their full diversity are struggling to keep their lives, livelihoods and dignity going in the midst of reversals taking place due to the fall out of the pandemic.

It is important to mention at the outset, that an intersectional lens is key to ensure the inclusivity of diverse women – lesbian, bisexual, trans, intersex or queer (LBT+); women of colour; women from diverse social and economic backgrounds, religions and families; women with a range of physical abilities; and gender non-conforming people; women from Dalit, Adivasi, urban and rural poor communities. While women’s organisations have been at the vanguard of change, it is well-known that over the last many decades they have found it increasingly difficult to get sustained institutional support, and deal with major pushbacks in challenging patriarchies, hetero-normativity, structural violence and notions of citizenship.

Close to a decade ago, South Asia Women’s Fund, now re-named – Women’s Fund Asia (WFA), noted in a study (2011-12) , that work around women’s human rights has been under-resourced, while programmatic, financial ‘commitments’ for gender equality and main-streaming were increasing. The report highlighted the instrumentalist approach to gender main-streaming, where gender is merely an `add-on’ to programmes and budgetary planning processes, rather than being an approach  that supports the transforming of power relations.

In 2008, a study by Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) on ‘Where is the funding for women’s rights’ highlighted that funding patterns for most women’s organisations was rather small, with two-thirds of the surveyed organisations having annual budgets of less than USD 50,000. The most significant change in the funding landscape since 1995, has been the overall increase in the number of women’s organisations receiving money from women’s funds.

Well known global activist Srilata Batliwala rooted for funds for women’s rights work early on, writing about the transformative work of women’s movements – in challenging the culture of silence around rape and violence, unpacking gender discrimination through research studies and gender-specific data, advancing laws, reforms and affirmative actions, and setting up new institutional arrangements to advance equality. Françoise Girard too advocates strongly for long-term support to women’s rights organisations that could effectively counter systemic patriarchal oppression, given their long time work on raising consciousness, building coalitions, and advocacy.

It is interesting to note here that data from Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) Development Assistance Committee (2016-17) indicated that an average of USD 44.8 billion per year was granted (corresponding to 38% of their bilateral allocable aid) towards gender equality and women’s equality – higher than ever before. However, support to programmes specifically dedicated to gender equality and women’s empowerment as their principal objective (as opposed to being one of several objectives) remained consistently low.

It is in this regard that one needs to focus on Feminist Philanthropy. The question often asked is feminist philanthropy different from merely funding women’s projects? Many donors and philanthropies support women’s programmes on the ground. What does it take to really change the lives of women and girls?

Tulika Srivastava, Executive Director, WFA in her piece, “Revolutionising Philanthropy across Asia and the Pacific”, writes:

Feminism is about disrupting power, and feminist philanthropy is about challenging and disrupting the power of resources and the power dynamics between those who give the resources for gender justice and those who claim them”.

Ise Bosch and Ndana Bofu-Tawamba noted that:

Feminist philanthropy must be seen as a political act, an act that works to transform notions of power, privilege and resources.”

Ms. Murray, Founder, Global Fund for Women observed that:

‘It is the “how?” that has the power to transform systems, structures, attitudes and behaviours of both the people who give and their recipients, not the “how much?”.’

A women’s fund in Nicaragua affirms:

It is an act of solidarity and mutual empowerment, in which the solutions to the problems that women face are seen as a matter of mutual responsibility.”

In a graphic document of WFA and partners, one statement by a participant stands out:

Acknowledging the power dynamics and patriarchal values present within the movement, and consistently challenging these structures, while being accountable to each other. 

South Asia Women Foundation, India (SAWF-IN) believes that:

The philanthropic landscape of giving, particularly for women and trans* people-led initiatives, should be expanded to support women’s leadership and organisational development”.


Feminist philanthropy is about transforming the political and the personal. Philanthropy needs to be informed by an intersectional power analysis and to support communities of diverse women to co-create and build movements for gender justice, equality and peace.

Women’s Funds have played a critical role. They have been the first to reach out to the most marginalised to support collective formation, rights based services and movement building. They have supported self-led collectives, who have the capacity, resources and political insights to transform their lived realities. Resources in the hands of such collectives and groups makes the difference. 1

And today, we witness the impacts of the pandemic in more ways than one. It involves multiple crises –  humanitarian, health, socio-economic – that have highlighted the deep fault-lines and the structural nature of inequalities in society. Ordinary working people, women, girls, trans and non-gender conforming persons from the most marginalised communities are carrying the burden of the pandemic. Lives and livelihoods have been lost, as hunger deepens, household debts increase, displacements and unsafe migration takes place and there is no access to essential life services. Women have seen an intensification of sexual abuse, intimate partner violence and other forms of violence. Unpaid care work is taking a huge toll on the time and health needs of women and girls.

In a rapid study undertaken by WFA recently with their partners on the impacts of Covid-19, it was found that most groups were on the edge with no possibility of maintaining physical distancing given the dense neighbourhoods they live in. Among the findings was the lack of food security of indigenous communities who are unable to sell their produce; challenges in accessing social security and government welfare schemes due to lack of documentation and recognition, especially for sex workers;  garment workers stuck in their cramped housing due to the lockdown with no relief measures; and so on. However, many collectives demonstrated their agency and power of organising amid the emergency measures in place: collecting funds; preparing food packages; campaigning online; gathering data to support their advocacy; providing services online to members and others 2.

Several feminist economists have highlighted the failures of the neo-liberal globalised economy in delivering basic needs, access to food security, public healthcare, social protection, social rights and human dignity.

There has also been a re-purposing of grants, and rightly so, for relief, given huge gaps in the response of the state system and no support to those on the margins. A group of philanthropic funders, committed to feminist funding principles, are leading the way in providing flexible funds for their grantees during the COVID-19 pandemic. There have been sustained and innovative responses by feminists, networks and alliances to highlight specific issues and concerns, to seek accountability from the state and to find ways of supporting and building solidarity. 3

Lina Abirafeh reflects on: “How COVID-19 has demanded a concerted global response, not only to containing the virus but in protecting the most vulnerable and in ensuring that women’s safety and women’s rights are at the heart of the response.”

Gagan Sethi, Board Member, SAWF-IN, urges the need to provide substantive support to women migrant labourers, most affected by the pandemic, to secure their rights to safe and decent work, forming their independent platforms and unions and accessing justice.

A Statement of Feminists and Women’s Rights Organisations from the Global South and from marginalised communities in the Global North, notes:

The need for increased resourcing for non-governmental organisations that respond to domestic violence and provide assistance — including shelter, counselling, and legal aid to survivors”.

We are aware that the challenges are enormous. We know that resources for community based groups of women, trans, and non-gender conforming persons, and others for organising, re-building and recovery work are just not accessible.

Priya Paul, well known entrepreneur, philanthropist and Co-Founder South Asia Women Fund – India, urges Foundations and Donors to invest in women’s human rights, and keep it as a high priority, as funding flows are insignificant. Only 1% of all gender-focused aid (governments) have been awarded to women’s organisations.

Now is the time to invest in feminist groups. Invest in advancing rights of women workers. Invest in organising. Invest in fellowships. Invest in ending violence, patriarchy and inequalities. More importantly invest in building new freedoms and the right to live with dignity for all girls and women.

Your voice, your time, your commitment matter.


  1. Read more about feminist funding : https://www.womensfundasia.org/ and https://www.prospera-inwf.org/#!/-home/.
  2. Internal document: WFA, 2020.
  3. Read more:


#Aftermath || The COVID-19 Camouflage


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The Covid-19 Camouflage

By Dr. Ritu Dewan

Dr. Ritu Dewan is a passionate activist as well as a first generation feminist-economist in India. She was, till her retirement, the first-ever woman Director of the Department of Economics, University of Mumbai. Having over a hundred publications,she also conducts training and capacity-building workshops related to gender budgeting and gender issues. Her research focus is generally the result of issues related to the marginalised.


What the pandemic has done is bring to the fore the huge structural divides and inequities that have characterised India for long. In this context the divide between growth and development has existed for long. However, the central focus of what is happening today is not so much the impact of the pandemic but the utterly inadequate and inhumane policy responses to the pandemic – giving a 4-day notice to light lamps and clang plates, and 4 hours for an entire nation to shut down, a nation that consists of migrants who constitute almost a third of the workforce. The ‘Stay at Home’ slogan for millions who have no home, who are forced to eke a living far away from their homes, especially women, who have virtually no homes.

The economy was already in a huge crisis before the pandemic, and the manner in which the pandemic has been sought to be dealt with has only exacerbated the collapse of the economy. There is a huge amount of evidence for the pre-pandemic economic destruction: largest fall in GDP 2019-20 before the pandemic; fall in actual money wages; collapse of demand with little money in the hands of the majority of the people; a demand crises that is sought to be rectified by a supply-based response; rise in poverty by 5 percent for first time in 4 decades; sharp decline in female workforce especially in urban India; decline in share of wages to total production cost; introduction of the Labour Codes that take away the rights of workers which they have fought for for almost a century; privatisation of insurance; increasing informalisation; introduction of the Trafficking Act that equates trafficking with especially women’s migration for employment; Smart cities with little space in policy or in city for labour and none at all for women; utterly inadequate housing that is neither affordable nor decent: the list is long.

And under what I call the Covid-19 Camouflage, a further liquidation of people’s and worker’s rights by extending work days, reducing wages, denying of even the basics such as water and rest. A ‘relief’ package that is a sleight-of-hand which combines various allocations already done; a loan package when concrete financial support is needed; combining of self-reliance with increased foreign investment; massive push towards privatisation and sale of people’s resources including publicly owned enterprises;

Among the most severely impacted are women’s rights – both as economic agents and as equal citizens: denial of crèches and maternity leave under the newly instituted labour ‘reforms’ initiated by several states; a ‘temporary’ stay on several reproductive rights under the guise of focusing healthcare on the pandemic; reduction in salaries of nurses who constitute the largest group of front-line health workers; non-payment of salaries to ASHA workers; virtual stoppage in most states of midday meals and the ICDS which provide at least some nutrition particularly to girls; a massive increase in domestic violence including of those who are now compelled to work at home. And something which is already invisibilized – an unprecedented increase in the unpaid work burden – and now even more so with ‘social’ distancing.

I consciously reject the term ‘Social Distancing’: we are already so distant – in terms of communities, class, gender, race, caste, abilities, conscience. It is Physical Distancing.



#Aftermath || Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic


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Protecting women’s land rights in the times of a pandemic

Dr. Girija Godbole

Dr.Girija Godbole is currently working at the Centre for Policy Studies (CPS) at IIT Bombay. Trained in anthropology she has worked in the environment and development sector. Her PhD research sought to understand the impacts of increasing incidence of land sale on a rural society in Pune district. She has been doing voluntary work with a grassroots organisation Jeevan Sanstha, in helping to set up an initiative for rural women and children in villages in Maval tehsil.


Covid-19 induced lockdown has shown us the dark underbelly of our society and government as thousands of migrants are forced to take to roads in scorching heat to reach their villages. As (and if) they reach after that arduous journey not all are fortunate to be allowed to enter their homes due to the fear of carrying the virus with them. This reverse migration may have varied consequences. Lack of remittances, shortage of paid work as well as increased pressure on the already scarce resources like land will aggravate the financial hardships for many rural families.

In families where men have migrated for work, the women left behind may have relatively more say in financial matters as well as more freedom of movement. However as the migrant men are forced to return to their villages the gender relations in families may change for the worse. Furthermore, economic empowerment for women which is the cornerstone of gender equality will suffer a blow under the crumbling of income-generation activities for women and will impact other aspects of women’s agency adversely, particularly within the household. It can impact health-seeking ability, decision making within the household, as well as their ability to protect themselves from domestic violence (Swaminathan and Lahoti, 2020).

Lack of employment, uncertainty of future, fear of losing the role of provider and being perceived to be less masculine may lead to frustration which is frequently vented out as violence against women. Several studies indicate a positive relationship between exposure to extreme events and rates of interpersonal violence (Jeltsen, 2020). A sharp rise in violence and abuse against women and children all across the world has been reported. In India, the National Commission for Women as well as many organisations providing support for victims of domestic abuse have reported an increase in calls for help (The Economic Times, 17/4/2020). Rural women seldom have access to such services. Moreover, violence against women is seen as accepted form of ‘disciplining’ or even sign of love shown by husbands so women themselves may not be willing to report it unless it reaches unbearable limits. In the current situation, violence against women may also escalate due to disputes over use and ownership of family assets such as land which continues to be the foundation for security, shelter, income and livelihoods, especially in rural areas.

Previous epidemics, and post-conflict or post-disaster situations, have shown that women are likely to be further disenfranchised of their housing, land and property rights in the absence of protection. Widows and orphans often lost property to other family members and were left homeless during the AIDS epidemic. Generally during crises, widows face a higher risk of disinheritance (Stanley and Prettitore , 2020).

In our society, ownership of land by women is a contentious issue. Traditionally, a son is perceived to be the ‘rightful’ successor. Amendment in the Hindu Succession Act (which is also applicable to Buddhist, Sikh, Jain) in 2005, brought all agricultural land on a par with other property and made women’s inheritance rights in land legally equal to men’s across the states. However, as we know too well, proactive laws and policies often remain only on paper as the traditional norms and practices continue to hold sway. According to a study carried out by the University of Maryland and the National Council of Applied Economic Research (Mehta, 2018) women constitute over 42 per cent of the agricultural labour force in India, but own less than two per cent of farmland.

Usually, it is observed that women and girls have access to land and other property through their male relatives. In case their male relatives pass away, tenure security for women and girls may further weaken due to restrictive social norms and lack of legal knowledge. They can be at particular risk of land grabbing by their husband’s relatives (Godbole, 2016). A recent survey conducted by the Mahila Kisan Adhikar Manch (MAKAAM, 2018) of 505 women farmers (whose husbands committed suicide due to farm crisis) in 11 districts across Marathwada and Vidarbha in Maharashtra, found that 40 per cent of women widowed by farmer suicides between 2012 and 2018, were yet to obtain rights of the farmland they cultivated. With family members who had migrated to cities are returning to their villages,  disputes over family land are increasing. Some of the widows are facing pressure from the male relatives of husband to sell the land to raise finances to start a new business (Damle, 2020)

With the uncertain employment situation in cities some of the migrant labour may be forced to remain in villages. As the pandemic may reduce other economic resources such as wages and savings, rights to house, land and property become even more important part of overall household assets. This may in turn increase competition and conflict among the family members and in such situations, women may lack the financial resources, information, or support to enforce their property rights (Stanley and Prettitore, 2020).

During the pandemic period, the government should ensure that particularly in case of inheritance, that female heirs are not forced to sign over their property. It is time that we as a society should  break the barriers to women’s access to land and recognise and protect women’s rights while the pandemic places them in a vulnerable situation.


Damle S. (2020) Taale lagtele jine (In Marathi) Loksatta, Chaturang. 6/6/2020 https://www.loksatta.com/chaturang-news/coronavirus-pandemic-lockdown-life-of-farmers-widows-dd70-2180297/ accessed 10/6/2020

Godbole G. (2016). “Selling land is the beginning of the end for us”: Understanding rural people’s perspectives on the impacts of increasing land sale in western Maharashtra, India. (Unpublished doctoral dissertation). University of Cambridge, UK.

Jeltsen M. (2020) Home Is Not A Safe Place For Everyone. Huffpost US 12/3/2020. https://www.huffingtonpost.in/entry/domestic-violence-coronavirus_n_5e6a6ac1c5b6bd8156f3641b?ri18n=true

MAKAM (2018) Social security of women farmers from suicide affected households: A situational analysis.  https://drive.google.com/file/d/10j7Q17iW2Eym3hkMc3QUfxE77oRV9NfQ/view accessed 12/6/2020

Mehta A. (2018) Gender gap in land ownership. Business Standard April 17, 2018   http://www.ncaer.org/news_details.php?nID=252

Stanley V and P. Prettitore (2020). How COVID-19 puts women’s housing, land, and property rights at risk. World Bank Blogs.  https://blogs.worldbank.org/sustainablecities/how-covid-19-puts-womens-housing-land-and-property-rights-risk  accessed 12/6/2020

Swaminathan H. and R. Lahoti (2020). The COVID-19 Lockdown Will Ravage Prospects for India’s Female Workforce. The Wire. https://thewire.in/women/coronavirus-women-economy accessed 10/6/2020.

The Economic Times 17/4/2020 https://economictimes.indiatimes.com/news/politics-and-nation/india-witnesses-steep-rise-in-crime-against-women-amid-lockdown-587-complaints-received-ncw/articleshow/75201412.cms


#Aftermath || “Work from home” and the challenge of preventing workplace sexual harassment


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“Work from home” and the challenge of preventing workplace sexual harassment

Dr. Anagha Sarpotdar

Dr. Anagha Sarpotdar has been working on socio-legal aspects of sexual harassment at workplace since 2005. Currently she is the Chairperson of Local Committee, Mumbai City District.


Working from home is now an accepted part of an organisation’s  functioning due to the indefinite lockdown. Home has become an extended workplace for many  people  over the months. Organisations are actively encouraging employees to leverage the various instant online communication platforms available to them, including Microsoft Teams, Zoom, Google Meet and many others. It is central that employees understand their responsibility to communicate in the same way as they would in the workplace thereby complying with all applicable workplace policies.

Though individuals may be physically at home, they continue to operate in a workplace when interacting with colleagues. Despite remote access to each other, complaints of sexual harassment registered during this period range from calls at odd hours, unwarranted requests for video calls, gender biased comments and inappropriate language used in a team meeting.  Hence, it is important that employers acknowledge applicability of the Sexual Harassment of Women at Workplace (Prevntion, Prohibition and Redressal) Act, 2013 to the nuances of a  non-traditional workplace.

The objective of the Act is to protect women from sexual harassment along with prevention and redressal of complaints of sexual harassment. The Act creates a concept of extended workplace wherein definition of workplace is not restricted to geographical location. Rather wherever the person is located in the context of work while performing professional duties becomes a workplace. More specifically, the Act defines workplace as “any place visited by the employee arising out of or during the course of employment, including transportation provided by the employer for undertaking such a journey”. Taking into consideration the definition of workplace, human resource departments and heads of business verticals need to ensure that they maintain regular contact with their employees for them to feel connected for reporting unwanted behaviour to the Internal Committee constituted under the Act. Particularly anti-sexual harassment policy also needs to be reiterated and the link provided to it.

Employees should be told that it is a misconduct to use text message, email, or social media in an offensive manner as it amounts to misconduct irrespective of the fact whether employees interact physically or virtually. Messages they send to others should be something that they would be willing to say to the other person on their face in person or via email.  If this is not the case, the communication is likely to be perceived as inappropriate. Employees should be informed that all internal communications are stored by the organisation and can be reviewed at a later date. Further it should also be communicated that data will be retained and accessible to the organisation. This should become part of relevant policies and/or employment contracts.  If communications software, used by employees, for conference calls (both audio and visual) allow recording, it is needed that all employees are aware of the same or else notification/consent should be sought. HR persons need to emphasise that memes and jokes about work from home scenarios could be offending and that rules of professional etiquette apply though the interaction is through online medium.

Since the Act defines sexual harassment as any physical, verbal and non-verbal conduct of sexual nature there is a possibility that  humorous content could be found violating sensibilities of women employees. Official dress code needs to be maintained while employees are connected for work virtually. While operating from the comfort of their home basic workplace norms can be ignored and conversations may become personal giving rise to discomfort. Though employees could be physically at home, while they are connected with each other for work, they are bound by the law and companies should necessarily relay this to employees clearly.

Trainings and awareness sessions with existing employees are done on an ongoing basis, they should also be done with the new recruits, interns and trainees who are being on boarded using online mechanisms. It is crucial that they become informed and sensitised to the expected norms of professional behaviour. Participation in these programmes can be ensured by using interactive material such as videos and case examples based on reported complaints of sexual harassment. Women employees can be informed about their rights guaranteed by the Act and specific provisions of the company anti sexual harassment policy.

Every employee can make efforts to ensure that the virtual working environment is devoid of sexual harassment. Employees can take following steps if they observe sexism and sexual harassment happening to their women employees.

  1. Reach out to the woman employee who is a recipient of objectionable behaviour or is disturbed due to inappropriate conduct of others using direct messaging. Inform the person that you have noticed the problem and that you will be supporting them if they decide to apply for redressal.
  2. Intervene in the situation and inform the person indulging in sexually harassing and / or gender biased behaviour to stop it and that it could have consequences as per company policy which is applicable in the work from home scenario.
  3. Being an eyewitness to the inappropriate behaviour, extend support to the affected woman employee by helping her to document the incident.
  4. Promptly bring the difficulty to the notice of the HR persons or IC for further action and support.
  5. Cooperate with the IC if you are summoned by it as a witness during inquiry.

Organisation commitment towards eliminating sexual harassment should be conveyed openly and distinctly. Changes suitable for an online working environment should be made to the anti-sexual harassment policy and other allied organisation policies. It should be ensured that policies are enforced in absence of physical interaction for implementation. Motivate employees to voice their opinions on creating a workplace that has little tolerance to sexism and sexual harassment. Employers should ensure that the Internal Committee constituted according to the Act should remain functional. Internal Committees need to have online meetings with an aim to not only comply with the Act in terms of meeting periodically but to redress reported complaints by conducting inquiry. Additionally, if the reported incident of sexual harassment has happened in the online space then essential communication between complainant and respondent should be officially kept in abeyance till completion of inquiry.

It is for the senior management to build the culture free from sexual harassment by walking the talk. This includes upholding values of the company in words and action, facilitating functioning of the IC and recognising that change in the usual manner of working may lead to certain unexpected situations which should be dealt with a gender sensitive lens and as spirit of the Act.

#Aftermath || The Lawless World of Women’s Work


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The Lawless World of Women’s Work

By Dr. S. Shakthi

Dr. S. Shakthi is an Institute Postdoctoral Fellow in the Humanities and Social Sciences Department at IIT-Madras.


One of the hallmarks of our current stage of late capitalism is precarity in employment across all sectors of the economy. Precarity, in this context, refers to the increasing vulnerability and unpredictability that has come to characterise several aspects of modern society. While this uncertainty has been underlined by COVID-19, it has been further magnified by institutional responses to the pandemic, many of which have had a terrible impact on those most disadvantaged. Among these measures has been the attempt by a number of Indian states to suspend or seriously weaken labour protections. The proposed changes include the short-term extension of working hours to 12 hours a day, or 72 hours a week, in several states, with the purported aim of allowing for physical distancing by engaging fewer workers at a time. The suspension of all but a handful of labour laws for three years in Uttar Pradesh, as proposed in the Uttar Pradesh Temporary Exemption from Certain Labour Laws Ordinance, 2020, has received particular attention. Presented as a move to attract investment, the enactment in its current form would eliminate the legal mandate to provide essential facilities such as toilets, sitting areas, clean drinking water and ventilation. Some of these schemes also aim to make labour-related practices, in corporate-speak, more ‘agile’, thereby allowing for the firing of employees without restrictions or resistance from trade unions.

I will not elaborate further on the specificities of these amendments, with much having been written already by legal analysts1. The impact of weakened labour laws on women, however, demands urgent consideration. While up to 90 per cent of jobs in India are in the informal sector, removing or severely diluting labour laws will likely lead to a further ‘feminisation’ of the labour force; that is, an increase in the number of women, particularly young women, employed to perform low-paid, routinised tasks under poor working conditions, as well as to a broader shift towards an even greater informalisation of work for both men and women. This is not a new phenomenon in the recent history of the transnational economy, with abundant social science research demonstrating repeatedly that the growth of poorly-regulated manufacturing jobs across a number of developing countries was spurred by the quest to find cheaper and more compliant2, often female, workers. In fact, the feminisation of work might lead some women working in the productive economy to be excluded from official worker statistics altogether. Maria Mies (1982), for example, in her study of women engaged in home-based lacemaking in Andhra Pradesh in the late 1970s, found that 100,000 women were not counted as workers in the national Census, even though they were an essential part of an intricate global supply chain.

Extending work hours can have serious implications for women in other ways. While unpaid reproductive and care work continues to be disproportionately performed by women, these changes are often made with a ‘gender-neutral’ employee in mind. As Joan Acker (1990) famously argued, this usually defaults to men, who are often relatively unencumbered by domestic work or childcare responsibilities. This could result in more women staying out of the labour force; just a few months into the pandemic, women have begun to lose jobs more than men (Outlook 2020). Enforcing 12-hour workdays will likely prevent many of them from finding a way back into safe and secure employment. For those who continue working under the conditions being proposed, these new temporal demands, combined with the lack of collective bargaining power to fight for higher wages, could acutely hinder socio-economic mobility. This goes beyond the need for financial security. Among the many forms of reproductive labour carried out largely by women, for example, is ‘family-status production work’. In Hanna Papanek (1971)’s formulation, these activities, such as spending time revising school lessons with one’s children, serve to improve or consolidate one’s social positioning. Family-status production work is an essential and generally invisibilised form of labour among the middle and upper classes, and one of the many structural advantages they possess when making claims to ‘merit’. In an environment that normalises grossly excessive work hours, poor women (and men) will find it even more difficult to carve out time for these tasks, further reinforcing multi-generational inequality.

Removing any legal obligation to provide basic amenities also fails to consider how societal conditions impact women’s access and ability to work in the productive economy in distinct ways. It should be apparent to any reasonable policymaker that the lack of facilities such as toilets or crèches is likely to keep more women out of certain workspaces. While the Uttar Pradesh government’s proposal mentions that laws pertaining to women and children will continue to remain in force, it does not provide a comprehensive list of these regulations. This creates an obvious loophole for employers who might wish to flout compliance requirements. In fact, the existence of women-specific labour laws does not guarantee compliance, and compliance does not guarantee inclusive workplaces. In my research on the Indian IT industry’s interpretations of the 2013 law on workplace sexual harassment (Shakthi 2020), for example, I found that even while formulating policies and addressing complaints, companies often failed to take into account the intersectional functioning of patriarchy along axes such as caste and class. When compliance with the letter of the law does not necessarily translate into meaningful engagement with feminist directives, curtailing labour regulations is likely to create an even more hostile climate for ensuring workplace equality. Moreover, by diminishing the role of unions that have often played a significant role in advocating for labour rights (including in the informal sector 3), these changes would further limit workers’ ability to contest these practices.

Those in favour of the proposed modifications have argued that Indian labour laws are bloated and antiquated. Some have pointed to the IT industry as an example of a formal-economy sector that has flourished without being ensnared in a web of outdated compliance frameworks. Yet, this lack of regulation, and the periodic mass layoffs that have come to characterise IT employment, have resulted in the mushrooming of small but vocal IT unions across the country in recent years. While there is certainly an argument to be made for reforms that  keep worker rights intact, an almost complete withdrawal of oversight and monitoring by the state cannot be the solution. What is crucial, instead, is bringing more workers into the formal economy, with guaranteed entitlements that recognise their value, safeguard their dignity and correct inherent power disparities between employers and employees. This is relevant also to the many sectors of the informal economy with a high concentration of women, such as domestic work.

This moment in our lives feels extraordinary, and in many ways, it is. Yet, many of the consequences of COVID-19 do not represent a disjuncture, but a continuum built on the long-term and systematic breakdown of multiple institutions. This includes the shift to neoliberal forms of governance that privilege the demands of capital over the needs and well-being of workers, resulting in sweeping changes to labour laws under the guise of a pandemic with potentially devastating consequences. For women workers, such measures will serve to exacerbate existing forms of inequality, including among women themselves. This can only be countered by the universalisation of thoughtful and inclusive labour laws, which should be the primary focus of any government committed to a welfare-oriented, rights-based agenda.


  1. For a succinct overview of the proposed changes, see Gopalakrishnan (2020); see Bhatia (2020) for an evaluation of their constitutionality.
  2. Or ‘docile’, as Diane Elson and Ruth Pearson (1981) highlighted almost 40 years ago.
  3. K. Kalpana (2019) provides an interesting account of the hybrid strategies adopted by unions working to secure the rights of informal women workers in Tamil Nadu.


Acker, Joan. ‘Hierarchies, Jobs, Bodies: A Theory of Gendered Organisations’. Gender & Society 4, No. 2 (1990): 139-158.

Bhatia, Gautam. ‘Equal Freedom and Forced Labour’. The Hindu, 12 May 2020, <https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/lead/equal-freedom-and-forced-labour/article31560930.ece&gt;, accessed 7 June 2020.

Elson, Diane and Ruth Pearson. ‘“Nimble Fingers Make Cheap Workers”: An Analysis of Women’s Employment in Third World Export Manufacturing’. Feminist Review 7, No. 1 (1981): 87-107.

Gopalakrishnan, Ramapriya. ‘Changes in Labour Laws Will Turn the Clock by Over a Century’. The Wire, 20 May 2020, <https://thewire.in/labour/labour-laws-changes-turning-clock-back&gt;, accessed 10 June 2020.

Kalpana, K. ‘“Old” and “New” Trade Union Activism: Organising Women Informal Workers in Tamil Nadu’. Economic and Political Weekly 54, No. 50 (2019): 49-56.

Mies, Maria. The Lace Makers of Narsapur: Indian Housewives Produce for the World Market. London: Zedl Press, 1982.

Outlook. ‘Women, People in Semi-urban Areas Bear the Brunt of Job Losses’. 16 May 2020, <https://www.outlookindia.com/newsscroll/women-people-in-semiurban-areas-bear-the-brunt-of-job-losses/1836606&gt;, accessed 5 June 2020.

Papanek, Hanna. ‘To Each Less Than She Needs, From Each More Than She Can Do: Allocations, Entitlements, and Value’. In Persistent Equalities: Women and World Development, edited by Irene Tinker, 162-181. New York; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990.

Shakthi, S. ‘The Law, the Market, the Gendered Subject: Workplace Sexual Harassment in Chennai’s Information Technology Industry.’ Gender, Place & Culture 27, No. 1 (2020): 34-51.




#Aftermath || Sustaining gender ratio in the workplace


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Sustaining gender ratio in the workplace

By Sairee Chahal

Sairee Chahal is the founder of  SHEROES – a mobile social network for women with over 15 million women as members. She is credited for building up women at work and future-of-work conversations in India, besides building a strong technology play to solve the problems of gender disparity in India. Her areas of interest include Products, Internet, Communities, Future of Work, Entrepreneurship, Investing, Gender, Media and Economies of transition.


The early days of the Covid19 lockdown unleashed an unprecedented amount of chaos in the world. News of health hazards, job losses and recessions, dominated world headlines. As time progressed, more and more was understood about the difficulties faced by women every day, across strata and profiles.

Many of these struggles are universal and unique. The challenges of increased emotional labour, lay-offs, domestic violence, and business struggles, were widely discussed.

But alongside these difficulties, some emerging trends have paved the way for women to grow and improve the quality of their lives. Technology and the Internet are big enablers in these narratives, and this blog looks at the opportunities they bring.

Remote work, the great equaliser

For years, women have worked remotely, but without the respect and dignity that comes with it. But overnight transitions to remote work have brought with it a new understanding of how this mode is an enabler without disrupting the cycle of work.

Several businesses are considering moving large parts of their workforces permanently to remote mode, and women will emerge as beneficiaries as remote work nullifies several of the constraints that stand in the way of career and financial success – geography, unsafe travel, care giving responsibilities.

Now more skilled women, unable to step out for fulltime work can leverage the benefits of remote work, and grow their professional identity and fiscal independence.

Over the last three years, SHEROES has invested in Managed Remote Solutions (MARS), a “workforce on cloud” comprising exclusively of skilled women working remotely. This workforce, trained and certified by SHEROES, exclusively works remotely, is highly accountable in their work, and delivers excellence, every day.

Shifts in remote work, have galvanised businesses to seriously consider unique services like MARS, which deliver skill sets like “empathy mindset”, in demand in sectors like eldercare and health, yet, are difficult to find in  existing workforces.

Women’s Internet, a massive enabler

By 2022, we are expecting 350 million women to come online, and the Internet must be prepared for this influx by becoming more constructive, safe and high trust for women Internet users.

The lockdown is almost like a dress rehearsal with women actively leveraging the internet to solve a host of immediate challenges – lack of access to health and medical care, reporting domestic abuse, seeking counselling, online coaching, and leveraging online spaces to create visibility for their businesses and voice.

SHEROES is constantly visualising for women’s needs, and this will turn the tide on how useful and supportive the Internet is for women internet users with a cross-section of needs and goals.

Birth of a million micro-entrepreneurs

With more and more jobs lost forever, the scenario is forcing women to think entrepreneurially, a mind-set that comes naturally to them. Gender biases faced by women have turned them into natural hustlers, and they are leveraging the internet to reinvent and turn into micro-entrepreneurs.

For instance, we’re seeing a growing number of women with skill sets like fitness instruction, food knowledge, content creation, marketing and tutoring, tweaking their offerings to now deliver services online.

Women entrepreneurs are also rising to new challenges borne out of the lockdown – lack of access to menstrual products and PPE products, gaps in education, mental health challenges, as well as health care in general, and launching new businesses or innovating existing businesses to meet the gaps.

SHECO, our social commerce business has connected the dots well between social commerce, women entrepreneurs and brands, and women are growing their identities as business women. They show up every day for training, and use it as a platform for learning and self-growth, and to increase their bottom-line.

Women hungry for upskilling

Global shifts in the job market across sectors as well as business have had a major impact on women.

Job losses and consequent financial difficulties, have pushed women to think long-term and build foundations for the future via upskilling themselves.

The type of skills varies – from specific in-demand domain skills and soft skills, to English language skills, financial literacy, to investing in how to improve personal branding.

Despite having less autonomy on their time, women are starting to prioritise upskilling, as a way to insulate themselves from future calamities.

On the SHEROES app, our expert Champions host at least two live ask-me-anything sessions everyday on a wide spectrum of topics.

We have partnered with Champion Woman to do exclusively curated workshops to support women in their quest for a stress-free, fulfilling life.

We have also co-hosted bootcamps around DIY skills like canva with phenomenal organisations like Girls x Tech Foundation, and the responses to all these opportunities are overwhelming.

It is not just professional or corporate women who are investing in upskilling – we see interest from entrepreneurs, students, homemakers, gig workers, consultants, senior women, too.

Leveraging the Internet for such constructive activities has been a phenomenal shift, and there is a spurt in hunger for self-growth, self-discovery, self-investment and growing a learning mind-set.

Women finding their tribes in online communities

As I mentioned, many of our struggles are universal no matter which part of the world we live in and there is a quest in women to find their own “me spaces” online, outside of their existing networks of friends, family ties and work circles.

They seek alternate spaces where authentic connections are possible based on shared vibes, values and interests. Such spaces enable authentic conversations and the expression of vulnerability. They encourage women to shed the veil of conformity expected in existing circles.

They work as venting spaces, where issues can be discussed, and humour, expression, creativity and milestones can be celebrated. They are spaces where appreciation and recognition are possible, without abuse, judgement and negativity.

Women-only online communities have showed up as the winners in this category, and the impact of such spaces can be directly mapped to how women “feel” about themselves, their happiness, their stress levels, well-being and overall sense of identity.

#Aftermath || Pandemic Threatens Jobs and Hard-Won Rights of Women in Media


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Pandemic Threatens Jobs and Hard-Won Rights of Women in Media

By Divya Chandrababu & Durga Nandini 

Divya Chandrababu is an award-winning independent journalist based in Chennai. She writes on politics, development, social welfare and mental health. Divya was previously with The Times of India and NDTV-Hindu. 

Durga Nandini is the Senior Director, Communications & Partnerships at Change.org India, based in New Delhi. She was previously with Amnesty International India and reported for some of the biggest Television networks and publications.


As an aberrant even for a disruption, the magnitude of Covid-19 has jolted us into new realities and reinforced existing inequalities. While the virus is a common threat to everyone, the humanitarian crisis and economic downturn brought by the pandemic has disproportionately affected  women. Now is a time to look back as well as record our career trajectories and question the roles we have played as journalists. A primary concern in the gender dynamics of this global emergency is that we cannot allow it to setback decades of feminist gains made in the workforce.

The news media industry is one of the hardest hit by the economic distress, despite it being an essential public service and more people relying on the medium. Journalists who are reporting on the health crisis, the large-scale loss of lives, livelihood and suffering, are victims themselves. While media organisations strive to expose problems afflicting our society there is a haunting silence in newsrooms about concerns facing journalists.

The Network of Women in Media, India, launched a collective effort to help inform people who are in need of jobs and assignments given the spate of job losses during the pandemic. At the heart of the initiative was the intention to end this culture of silence and make job losses and pay cuts a subject of discussion to ensure that problems faced by journalists were not brushed under the carpet or made invisible.

A survey to assess the extent of job losses was an important part of this initiative and simultaneously, network member and independent journalist Raksha Kumar and the writer Durga Nandini fronted the NWMI’s Twitter thread on job resources. Their DMs were open on Twitter for media professionals who are desperate to talk to somebody. Both men and women reached out to them. Many challenges were similar – desperate for a job, no money for taking care of family, threat of being sacked, freelance assignments drying up. With women, what stood out was the immense stress levels caused by the dual role they are forced to play now – of being full time caretakers of their family members who are stuck at home and to continue to over perform at work for fear of losing their jobs if they are perceived as slackers.

Pamela Philipose, Public Editor, The Wire, in a conversation with the writer Divya Chandrababu, says that women have less autonomy now to pick and choose the conditions they report from due to the tremendous pressure of job threats. For reporters, the workplace is predominantly outside of office, at public spaces and institutions where even before Covid-19, women reporters’ were at the risk of being sexually harassed or groped while on the job. While the #metoo movement shook up newsrooms, it could not address the lack of safety which women reporters often face on the field. Even the most well-meaning editors’ could only come up with a solution of sending male reporters to cover protests or large gatherings – which takes away the right of a woman reporter to pursue a story. The current crisis adds another layer of constraint for women journalists on the field. They are on the streets wearing PPEs, reporting while on a painful period cycle and walking long distances without public transport.

Any industry looks at productivity and profitability that one can bring to a job and if the company has to invest more for a candidate, those employees would be the first ones to be fired. “Women often tend to be in that dubious category,” says Philipose who was an advisor to the Media Task Force of the Indian government’s High Level Status of Women Committee Report. An editor of a major newspaper, on condition of anonymity, said that though there are individual unstated prejudices against hiring women, which may be reinforced during mass layoffs, it hasn’t largely restricted recruitment policy towards women. But when decisions are made based on factors like who can go out at night or go to the field without facing problems, women are disadvantaged here.

“Since the 1950s, courageous women have fought for toilets, maternity leave, security of service at the workplace. All that can disappear in a moment,” warns Philipose. “People will say conditions are not right now and there will be temptation to adjust but we have to hang on to gains made during normal times.”

So far, there are no verified industry numbers to study the overall extent of job cuts or the gender divide. Cyril Sam, an independent journalist based in Delhi, has been running an up to date Medium blog where he captures every announcement about job losses or salary cuts. “Here is what I know in reverse chronological order,” he says in his blog and proceeds to jot down every single publicly known impact of Covid-19 on the media industry. At the time of writing this piece, he had documented a staggering number of 57 cases of edition closures besides salary cuts, operations being ceased, newspapers going behind paywalls, media companies vacating rented offices, bulk layoffs and so on. Just scrolling through that list can shock you with the scale at which the media industry has been hit.

News about pink slips has been reaching us through Whatsapp groups, Twitter and other routes. Most media organisations have not revealed actual numbers of job cuts, salary cuts, or prolonged unpaid furloughs. Employees who are shown the door do not talk publicly for fear of being branded a “troublemaker” and losing whatever slim chances they have at another job opening.

Anyone following the media industry closely would have noticed that the job losses began at the so-called fringes – lifestyle, travel and entertainment journalism. Traditionally, women have been assigned these “softer beats” and deprived of equal opportunities in beats perceived as “tougher”, such as politics, crime, business and economy. Naturally, women are among the first to take a hit during job cuts. Health – which until the virus spread was also perceived as a ‘soft beat’ is the most significant beat across the world. In India it is predominantly led by women, both freelancers and those who work in mainstream media. Their stellar public health reportage has brought crucial changes to India’s response to the coronavirus but exposes them to incessant abuse on social media by pro-government accounts who attack journalistic work that seeks accountability from elected representatives.

The work-from-home arrangement enforced by the five-phase lockdown since March has had its benefits and detriments for women reporters. Two employees we spoke to were on maternity leave until May. One of them has taken two rounds of salary cuts but is relieved that her job is secure. Filing stories from home is a blessing in disguise for her as she can continue breastfeeding her baby. But the same situation sadly played differently for another reporter who had to resign because she delivered her baby in another city and travel restrictions didn’t allow her to return or for her family to come to her for support. The HR couldn’t offer her a transfer as they were cutting down on staff. “I was looking forward to joining work. It’s as if women are being punished for having the ability to give birth,” she says.

Even before the Covid-19 outbreak, an editor had asked Divya of her marital status while commissioning a story to understand if her personal life would be supportive of a demanding professional commitment that would take months of work at a stretch. Considering social norms and the new work structures, our impression is that the roles of women at home will be further scrutinised as we live through the crisis. With homes becoming the concentrated center of all activities, child support systems suspended and self-quarantine being encouraged, the unpaid workload on women increases as they fall on the caring side of the relationship equation. Balancing their responsibilities towards their families and their own demanding careers, which are on the line of fire, has taken an invisible toll on stress levels affecting the mental health of women adversely. One woman said that not so long ago, she had the option of choosing a career in research and policy, but she chose to continue being a reporter.  Now faced with a salary cut and the threat of a job loss looming, she is very worried about how she will take care of her dependent parents.

At the bottom of this pecking order are independent reporters including Divya for whom assignment opportunities and negotiating powers are diminishing. Since March, editors began turning down pitches as they couldn’t take contributions while they were simultaneously cutting down on their in-house resources. Freelance reporters have told us that they touched base with new editors, cold-emailed publications but there has been no response. “The novel coronavirus is the biggest story of our lives but one of its many consequences has led us to trade off a paid reporting space.”

As independent women journalists, we have the control of time, flexibility and the space to delve deep into stories we really care about. But it comes at a price. It’s a lonely job with a range of challenges such as operating without a press card – which was a practical problem preventing us from going to the field during the lockdown. When you take on investigative stories or go up against a powerful person/body there is no organisational security. Access is lesser when you don’t represent mainstream media. Reporters have also complained of publications stealing story pitches which they had submitted and reporters most often have to chase for their payments. The current crisis and a post-pandemic scenario only aggravates such pre-existing problems.

The NWMI’s statement on the impact of the Covid19 crisis on the news media, especially journalists, also pointed out that, “Freelancers, a majority of them women, already face tenuous arrangements for assignments and poor and erratic payment schedules and have been further pushed to the margins.” This statement was validated during an NWMI survey on job losses and pay cuts, when a columnist and freelance writer who asked not to be named, said that she was told by publications that her articles would be published but she would not be paid. Her regular column in a newspaper paid her pittance and for a decade, she had not had a single pay raise. Newspaper editors had been ignoring her constant requests to increase her fee.

Regardless of the nature of employment, everyone is in survival mode now. In a recent NWMI Webinar for journalists titled “Letdown in Lockdown”, the discussion was largely focussed on how to tide over these testing times. Where do we find jobs or freelance assignments? Should we take this time to study or upskill? What do we do when we are shown the door unceremoniously?  – were just some of the questions that came up from women journalists

A woman journalist, who reached out to talk to Durga about the NWMI job thread on Twitter, had quit her job to join another organisation just before Covid19. And the organisation she had to join was not able to go through with their job offer to her. Faced with uncertainty, she did the most sensible thing. She looked at her own job profile, which had been spent with one organisation for many years, and realised that she had to upskill and diversify. She felt she had to get her bylines in more places and emerge as an expert in her field. She started drawing on the professional connections she built over the years, became an independent journalist and started writing pieces for a few news portals. She has just begun this process and she doesn’t really know where this will take her but she has taken the first and the most important step towards building a strong CV.

Diversification means different things to different people. Some journalists choose to diversify within journalism. Others consider diversification as moving to various sectors where your communications skills can be put to use – Advertising, Public Relations, Policy Research, etc.  Durga has done both forms of diversification in her 15 years in the media industry. “In journalism, I gathered reporting experience with print, news wire and television. For the past many years, I find myself in the nonprofit sector and there too, I have played leadership roles in Communications, Advocacy and Partnerships.”

Recruiters look for these fundamental qualities in a resume. Does the CV indicate that the candidate is a fast learner and will hit the ground running? Does it give us a sense that the candidate is capable of unlearning and will swim if thrown to the deep end? Journalists often ignore how important it is to build one’s CV. They get comfortable within their cocoon of being reporters, sub editors, television anchors or news producers. But when there is a crisis in the industry, reality strikes. There are no more jobs. And the skills that your CV shows may not open doors for you in other sectors.

However, an upward trend is that the pandemic pushed women to progress toward journalism entrepreneurship. Singapore-based media start-up, Splice published a detailed report on how four freelancers in Asia, three of whom are women, expanded their work and audience during the pandemic.  The model allows reporters to create news content for a specific audience with whom they engage directly and monetize their work through personal newsletters, podcasts or via platforms such as Substack. Industry watchers believe that this is the future for news media and journalists.

#Aftermath || Dealing with Domestic Violence during a Pandemic


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Dealing with Domestic Violence during a Pandemic

By Swetha Shankar

Swetha Shankar is Director – Client Services, PCVC. She has a Masters in Psychology and an M.Phil in Conflict Resolution and Reconciliation. With a concentration in gender and violence against women, she has 5 years of experience in the social development sector.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vulnerability of women facing domestic violence in a way that perhaps no other single global event has ever before. With strong anecdotal evidence and first-hand data, we can state with confidence that domestic violence has increased during the coronavirus lockdown, and women are paying an inordinately high price. The pandemic is a grim reminder that for some, home is not the safe haven we imagine it to be. While protected from the virus, there are other horrors lurking around women staying indoors, and our institutions are failing to help them because they are ineffective even when we are not facing a pandemic. In this blog, I will try and set out some specific actions that can help address this situation.

Official reporting of domestic violence in India is extremely poor, and those cases only represent a minuscule fraction of violence that women actually face. Even so, the lockdown has seen a palpable increase in violence. The National Commission for Women (NCW) has reported a surge in cases with 123 domestic violence complaints registered between March 24th and April 10th. This is double the number recorded in the preceding two weeks. In response, they launched a WhatsApp number to assist survivors. At the Dhwani Domestic Violence Hotline run by PCVC, we have been flooded with calls. In the first 4 days of the lockdown, we received ten times the calls we usually cater to in a full month before the pandemic. The follow-up calls from women experiencing violence was double the number of first-time callers. Not only were more women facing violence, the frequency and intensity of violence against them also increased.

The single-most debilitating factor of the pandemic for women facing violence is isolation. India has been in lockdown since March 24, 2020. For many women, that’s over two months of being locked in with their perpetrators amidst fear, uncertainty, and job and financial insecurity. Cut off from family, friends, colleagues, and other support systems and facing institutional apathy, many survivors are reporting that their communications are being monitored. Hence, they are unable to seek external support.

But even if they could seek external support, help might not actually ever arrive, or arrive on time. Most shelters are closed, police are refusing to file cases and women seeking emergency support through 100 are being admonished for overburdening the system at a time when they have “far more important things to deal with”. The options for applying for emergency travel passes included health reasons, but domestic violence and the detrimental effect it can have on physical and mental health was not considered grave enough to grant passes in many cases.

To be clear, it is not that our institutions were completely silent. According to an article in the New Indian Express, the Tamil Nadu health department responded to a writ petition filed in the Madras High Court stating that 111 Anganwadi workers had been temporarily deputed as protection officers, and one stop centres and protection officers in the state had handled 65 and 92 cases respectively as of April 21st. It was reported that in most cases, survivors chose for the abusers to be warned, rather than pursuing legal remedies due to obstacles posed by the lockdown. The Jammu & Kashmir High Court took suo motu cognizance of the increase in domestic violence cases and issued interim directions designating informal spaces such as pharmacies and grocery stores as safe spaces where women can report domestic violence, and educational institutions and hotels should be made temporary shelters to shield them from violence. The Delhi High Court called on the government to ensure effective implementation of the Protection of Women from Domestic Violence (PWDV) Act and, the Karnataka High Court has asked the government about availability of hotlines and actions taken to address domestic violence.

But the fact is, such emergency measures don’t really achieve anything, and they do not translate into safety for all women on the ground. Even if a few women do get some respite from the violence, they are not free to make choices that prioritize their well-being without compromising their support systems, their financial security, their continued custody of their children.

So, what does a coordinated response look like, in such a disparate eco-system of support? We need to understand a few things before we answer that question.

First, solutions which disregard consequences for the survivor are ineffectual. Actions are often black and white, but consequences very rarely are. Leaving is not an immediate option for many women and it takes a lot of support to make that decision. We can ask a woman to leave, but where will she go? What about financial support? On the other hand, we can ask a woman to stay and warn the perpetrator, and create safety plans for the survivor – but can we guarantee safety or freedom?

Secondly, any support system that does not understand that breaking the cycle of violence is a process cannot respond effectively in an emergency. Legal solutions are long-term solutions and take time, resources and support that are not accessible immediately. Getting the buy-in and support of the birth family requires many counseling sessions, conflict resolution and negotiation with various family members.

Thirdly, crisis support requires us to think creatively and generate options with survivors, where there may seem to be none. As a hotline crisis responder, I have learnt that telling women that they can apply for a protection order under the PWDVA Act, whilst valuable information, does nothing to alleviate the need for immediate support. In one case during this pandemic, we were able to coordinate with the police and one-stop centre, to temporarily move the husband out of the marital home and into his mother’s house for the duration of the lockdown. He also provided financial support for the survivor to keep the house running. Solutions like this help provide immediate safety and time to contemplate long-term needs.

Keeping the above in mind, here are, in my opinion, five pillars of any immediate and effective solution to address domestic violence against women, especially during a pandemic.

  1. Mobility – Allowing women to travel to safety is an immediate need during these times and must be facilitated by state mechanisms. Getting them out of the unsafe environment is the first step – it will provide space and time for women and their families to consider various options available to them and think of next steps. A separate nodal agency can be set up to provide and coordinate travel passes for domestic violence survivors, such as the social welfare department.
  2. Safe Housing – Women who are unable to reach family members or friends who can put them up need to be offered safe housing options – this requires that emergency shelters are in operation, extra beds are organized, hotels can be an option as has been in some countries.
  3. Financial Support – Immediate financial support for food, medical expenses, travel expenses etc. needs to be provided by the state. Access to joint family resources can also be facilitated by emergency workers.
  4. Custody Arrangements – Women should not be forced to choose leaving their children behind if they wish to leave. Emergency custody arrangements, especially in cases of young children, will help survivors negotiate longer-term measures post the emergency.
  5. Access to Personal Items – Many survivors are denied access to essential items such as clothing, their ID cards and certificates, ration cards, their jewellery etc. Emergency responders should coordinate to ensure that they are able to have access to these items and they are not used as leverage to prevent them from taking any action.
  6. And finally, for any solution to work, providing support to women facing domestic violence should be declared an essential service. Our counsellors found it immensely difficult to even rescue women facing violence due to the unavailability of passes. If the entire system does not recognize and acknowledge the magnitude of the problem in general, we will never be able to address it during a pandemic, and women will continue paying a price for it.



#Aftermath || Impact of COVID -19 Lockdown on Women with Disabilities in India


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Impact of COVID -19 Lockdown on Women with Disabilities in India

By Dr. Asha Hans

Dr. Asha Hans is Executive Vice President of Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre. A leading campaigner of women’s rights, she has participated in the formulation of many conventions in the United Nations.


The world was not prepared for a crisis like COVID-19, and this is perceptible in diverse ways. The pandemic has challenged our hierarchical way of living, our ideologies and sense of security and recent reports across the world are highlighting the differentiations in people’s experiences of COVID-191. There is an emerging duality of the pandemic, now named by UN Women as a ‘shadow pandemic’ because of the web of violence connected to it. The lockdown strategy adopted to keep the contagion from spreading has resulted in people staying within the household, resulting in high stress, severe depression, frustration and anger. The most challenging outcome of this change within the household has been the increase in domestic violence.  The protection system has collapsed and no response is available to end the violence.  This is also a systemic change, for the new security developed is meant to be used against a virus and not another human. In this medico scientific approach, law and human rights find little space to maneuver. Thus, we need to shift our gaze in order to see things from a gendered rights perspective.

Catalina Devandas Aguialar the Special Rapporteur on Rights of Persons with Disabilities has highlighted the impact on women with disabilities worldwide and the UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has urged the international community to ensure that violence against women and girls are  given high priority with no impunity for perpetrators. The 11.8 million women with disabilities population in India is more than that of the United States and Canada combined female disability population. In India, because of high poverty levels, poor health conditions, low education, limited incomes and patriarchal system, women with disabilities are considered to face grave danger from the virus. There is however no information in India on the impact of the coronavirus on women with disabilities, either in the State or community news. The issue of domestic violence against women with disabilities has not been recognized. It is not surprising as the National Family Health Survey and the National Crime Record Bureau do not include data on women with disabilities. Thus, the women have remained invisible in the system and continue to do so in an emergency such as COVID-19.

My own research initiated on COVID-19 and the lockdown in India is showing that the women face multiple problems. Despite the importance of awareness on prevention of the coronavirus, many persons with disabilities are not receiving information, as they require material in universally accessible designs. Despite an existing legal framework, the information is inadequately available. With no knowledge on protection strategies they should adopt, they are at very high risk. Many are exposed, as they cannot maintain social distance, because of their dependency on personal assistants for activities of daily living such as bathing, eating etc. Though men and women face these problems, data shows that more women are illiterate and so more open to threats posed by the virus. There is also very pitiful social protection as all communication links are broken.

For women the most problematic and specific concern is domestic violence being perpetuated against them especially within the family. This finding is based on our ongoing research on COVID-19 and earlier writings that women with disabilities on violence from family and society. The violence perpetuated on them has been from parents, siblings and even personal assistants. It has ranged from battering to sexual abuse, incest and withdrawal of economic rights. In this pandemic this has increased in magnitude. Due to the lockdown, the women are advised by the family to stay within the closed environment of the house, a well-known site of extreme violence. The violence has increased but solutions are limited as networks have broken down. Women with disabilities themselves choose to keep quiet fearing abandonment by family. They have limited access to legal justice because of lack of support services to reach protection officers or one-stop centres. Some of them are unaware of the existence of such services.

Women with disabilities are amongst the poorest of people in India and COVID-19 has increased the poverty level as work is not available. The house becomes a prison where violence includes withdrawal of food as they are seen as a burden on the families. They face discrimination on the ground that they do not contribute to the household income, marriage is only for a few, so to the family they seem like a lifelong liability and this is becoming a major reason for the increase in domestic violence. As poverty increases, simultaneously, so does food insecurity and access to health. This was the major complaint from the field 2. Most women with disabilities have limited autonomy.  Many complained they were given less food than other family members, others said that though they contributed to the household by handing over their pension and other money given by the State 3, but the food given to them was also comparatively less. The State provides food to some of them but limited to those who have identity (Aadhaar and disability cards). Many in Gujarat said that the access to Government did not exist. In Odisha through civil society networks food was available, and in Telangana private agencies distributed food to them. Research has shown that fewer women across India are included in the certification process4 and access to subsidized food under the Food Security Act is difficult. This is the way to access food universally but without certification the pathway to food is closed. Together with this are the problems within the family due to patriarchal structures in place and discrimination against them.

COVID-19 has social, economic and psychological impact on every citizen in India, including women with disabilities, but the latter are affected disproportionately. Stress impacts women with psychosocial disabilities and most family members are known to provide them medication without their informed consent. There are instances of family members abandoning them, as shelters are not taking in women after COVID-19 struck. There is also a fear among the women with psycho social or intellectual disabilities that short-term institutionalization during quarantine may result in lifetime institutionalization. In India, the history of institutionalizing has been a story of abuse of women, of lifelong abandonment and a continued site of violence.5 The State has to take notice and ensure that survivors of violence are not institutionalized for life.

Keeping the above mentioned context in perspective, it becomes imperative to create awareness on the plight of women with disabilities, set up accessible hot lines, short message services and Whatsapp  messages, both written and with voice over, and reinforce and expand economic and social safety nets. It is crucial to integrate the issue of violence against women with disabilities in the pandemic response system. Women with disabilities are citizens with rights but during crisis situations these are overlooked as there are no guidelines in place. An inclusive Pandemic Emergency Action Plan may be put in place which includes the rights of women with disabilities.

In the final analyses it could be drawn from the above that there is an ad-hocism in response to the pandemic, as States and communities have not been faced with this type of emergency in recent memory. The State action in regard to persons with disability has however been prompt as the guidelines on COVID-19 have been issued, but in the document women with disabilities are missing 6.  Women with disabilities are still on the margins and fear of institutionalization is high, thus, what is required is the missing community solidarity to deal with exclusion. The State and communities must ensure that violence against women with disabilities ends and no one goes hungry or without access to health security. We know we have to learn to live with the virus, but we can do so with dignity. Wisdom lies not in further isolating an excluded community, but including them and creating change which will not reinforce inequality. There must emerge in response to COVID-19 a collective humane leadership that believes in the strength of women with disabilities.  It may be noted that they have age-old experience in combating loneliness and isolation that gives them insights into the current situation to fight against COVID-19. Their experience and resources, if utilized mindfully, may create understanding about the threat against isolation and flatten the curve of COVID-19 in India.


  1. Data is collected by SMRC from the field it works in with women with disabilities in Odisha, Gujarat and Telangana.
  2. Information from women with disabilities in Odisha: Of hundred women interviewed this was a major complaint from 65%
  3. In this case INR 1500 three months pension, INR 1000 special grant for COVID 19 and rice, lentils etc.
  4.  Asha Hans 2007 A Multi State Socio Economic Study of Women with Disabilities in India. Report for UNDP, Government of India and Shanta Memorial Rehabilitation Centre. undp.org/content/dam/india/docs/a_multi_state_socio_economic_study_of__with_disabilities_in_india.pdf
  5. Human Rights Watch 2014 Treated Worse than Animals: Abuses against Women and Girls with Psychological or Intellectual Disabilities in Institution in India”
  6. Comprehensive Disability Inclusive Guidelines for protection and safety of persons with disabilities (Divyangjan) during COVID 19.

#Aftermath || Women and Water: Challenges ahead amid COVID-19


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Women and Water: Challenges ahead amid COVID-19

By Dr. Ruchi Shree

Dr. Ruchi Shree is Assistant Professor at the PG Department of Political Science TMBU (Bhagalpur, Bihar). She has specialized in the politics of water and sanitation over a decade. Her research interests include Gandhi politics, peace and conflict studies, new social movements, and comparative politics. Apart from teaching, she has been actively involved in research advocacy with environmental organization.


In the wake of numerous challenges posed by the ongoing pandemic of COVID-19, when washing hands with soap is frequently suggested as one of the precautions, access to water is certainly a matter of grave concern. Taking a clue from Sandra Harding’s standpoint theory 1, let me begin this writing with two inter-linked questions, first, do women perceive water differently? and second, why they should perceive water differently. Given the fact that the debate over complexities of ‘right to water’ is going on for more than a decade, the universality of such a right is often contested especially when it comes to the meaning of such a right for women. In the recent past, numerous reports of organizations such as the United Nations and the World Water Institute, etc. have highlighted the inevitable link between women and water, it is also one of the major reasons for girls dropping out of school as their physical presence is needed at home to store water. To share my experience of research on water for more than a decade and to have interacted with women to understand their plight for water in different parts of India, I would like to share three narratives – anti-Coca-Cola struggle in Plachimada (Kerala); dream of piped water in Sangam Vihar (New Delhi) and efforts of water conservation by women in Mount Abu (Rajasthan).

Anti-Coca-Cola Struggle in Plachimada (Kerala)

Plachimada, a small village in Palakkad district of Kerala, became famous worldwide when the local people, especially women, fiercely protested against the giant MNC Coca-Cola led to its closure in 2004. In the beginning, Mayilamma, a tribal woman, started organizing the local people for the protest, later they were supported by Vandana Shiva and Medha Patkar. But, later on, there was a split in the movement since Vilayodi Venugopal, a lawyer by profession and a human rights activist, started giving more attention to the compensation issue. At present, the movement is split into two groups – one, headed by Vilayodi Venugopal, and another by Mayilamma’s supporters. In 2011 when I visited Plachimada, I had a chance to visit Mayilamma’s house and talk to her son Subramanian, who told me about the split in the movement. It was quite shocking to see that even after more than seven years of the plant’s closure, the groundwater was still not potable. People still depended on water supplied by the tanker lorry and they had to pay to get drinking water.

The Plachimada struggle was started as an initiative by the local people due to several problems such as shortage of water, pollution of groundwater and health hazards created by it, etc. But, over a period of time, it started earning many titles viz. environmental movement, feminist movement, Gandhian movement, etc. Today, this struggle is considered as a major victory and stands as an icon for the ‘human rights movement’, especially with the High Power Committee’s decision that Coca-Cola has to pay Rs. 216 crore as compensation to the local people on the basis of ‘polluter pays principle’. But, the fact remains that this Committee’s report has been challenged by the Company and the report was sent for the President’s signature more than five years ago. Thus, the present status of the struggle is of a long legal battle for compensation.

Dream of Piped Water in Sangam Vihar (New Delhi)

Sangam Vihar, one of the largest unauthorized colonies of India, is infamous for its severe water crisis. In 2015 and 2016, along with my students I conducted a few focused group discussions (FGDs) with women to understand how women coped with the shortage of water. When I tried to know about their perception of water, few very interesting responses came from the local women. Shamina, who was an illiterate woman, around 50 years old, said ‘Pani hai to bahut kuch hai, nahi hai to kuch bhi nahi’. They usually take bath once every three to four days and even washing clothes is so restricted. Earlier, there were many handpumps in the streets but in the last ten years they have faced a severe water crisis.  In summers, it is not easy to get a water tanker. They spend a big portion of their earnings for water only. She further says that “Ramzaan 2 ke dauran to har pandrah din me pani mangana padta hai. Un dinon humen raoj nahana hota hai aur din me panch baar vajoo2 karte hain” (During Ramzan, we have to call the tanker every fifteen days as it is must for each family member to take bath every day. We also perform vajoo five times a day).

Another respondent Shagufta said, “Pani ke mare to sab pagal bhaye pade hain. Sari gali pani mol mangati hai’ (We all have gone mad behind water as the whole street has to buy water for all kinds of use). They don’t let the children wash the utensils or clean the house as they are likely to waste water. They also collect the rainwater to use it later. While I was conducting the focused group interview with the women, a group of boys passed by, twice, on motorcycles singing songs and trying to make sense of the ongoing activity. It made me a little uncomfortable and I shared my apprehension with the women and for them it was just another usual activity in that area. Most of the respondents complained about the open sewer in the streets and the lack of any system to collect the garbage.

One of the respondents Hooran (Hoor Bano) introduced me to her daughter-in-law Shehnaz. Ten years back, when she was in her first year of college, Shehnaz married the Hoor Bai’s elder son. Her parents live in Okhla area where there is no water crisis. Her husband works as a tailor in a factory and she was not allowed to study after marriage as her husband was illiterate and no one was willing to support her in continuing her studies. She has a nine-year-old daughter and she is happy about helping her in doing homework. The government schools are not good in the area and she sends her daughter to a private school named I.G. Memorial school (situated in the L-Block only).  Ever since she shifted to Sangam Vihar, the shortage of water has been the biggest problem. She said, “Meri mummy ke ghar pani hi pani hai. Button dabao pani bhar jata hai. Main yahan pani ko tarasti hoon” (In my mother’s house, water is so easily available. It is just a click of a button and water gets filled in the tanks. Here, I am always thinking about water).

She took me to the terrace to show their four water tankers kept there. The fifth tanker, with a capacity of thousand liters, is on the ground floor right in front of their house. Four tankers kept on the terrace are of four different capacities i.e. 1000 liters, 750 liters, 500 liters and 350 liters. I also saw the other terraces full of water tankers. She said that the government borewells are always dysfunctional and they end up spending a huge amount of their earnings on water. The water,  supplied by the government,  comes once in a month or sometimes once in two to three months. Each family is charged Rs 140. She said those who have political connections get the water supply easily. Those who are rich do not let the poor prosper. Until the water problem gets solved, their situation will not improve. Her family spends Rs. 2500 to Rs. 3000 a month for water.

Omvati, who migrated from Badayun district of U.P., along with her husband, to this area said, “Hum tees saal se dhakke kha rahe hain pani ke chakkar me. Keval sarkari supply se hi theek hoga pani ka haal’ (We are mad behind water for last thirty years. Only water supplied by the government will improve the water situation). She further added, ‘Mehman bhi aa jayen to hamen pani ki hi chinta hone lagti hai’ (If the guests come, we are so tensed about water only). Her friend Shakuntala, from Etah district of U.P., said that Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal has improved the situation of water. Friends become foes in this area when it comes to water. When the supply water comes, everyone wants to fill the water before others. The residents who live at the border of gali no. 9 and 14 are not able to avail the facility for both the gallis within the same L-block. Sonia Vihar water supply has reached till Deoli but L-block could not get the pipeline. Every third day, people spend hundred rupees for drinking water.

Water Conservation by women (Aburoad area, Rajasthan):

In 2016, I had a chance to become part of a joint research project by two civil society organizations namely CSR and HSS-India to evaluate the collaborative work done by them. We were led by Sharmi Bai (former local elected representative) to the hilly areas of Nichlagarh (a village in Aburoad) to see four kinds of structures – anicuts (concrete structures), nadi (small pond like structure), check dams (make-shift structures made by stones) and trenches4 (a small structure of narrow ditch) – constructed by her team for water conservation.

In the above context, it is noteworthy to take account of two facts. First, Sharmi Bai had clarity on how these water structures worked and second, she duly acknowledged the help done by the government officials. The Haans-Seidel-Stiftung-India-CSR project has led to women empowerment in that region and has immensely helped the forest department of the Rajasthan government. It has helped them in the construction of structures. The local women have adopted practices viz. washing utensils near trees to utilize the waste water, saving the rainwater in containers, doing plantation to prevent soil erosion and promote water conservation. The tribal as well as the non-tribal people are mostly very poor. The level of literacy, especially among women, is also very low in that area.

In the Nichlagarh region, the coming together of State and civil society actors, to work with the tribal people, has not only benefited them but has also been very useful for sustainable development in the long run. In the summer of 2016, with the help of 500 daily wage workers, working under the Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Act (MGNREGA)5 scheme, they constructed as many as 60,000 trenches to retain rainwater. But very little rain in the region left them disappointed as the water level recharge did not match their expectations. However, they are hopeful to have better results in the coming years.

Complex Negotiations by Women around Water during COVID-19

Three narratives based on field-works conducted in the last one decade around women and water entail the centrality of everyday struggles for livelihood and survival. Partly they also suggest that given a chance, women could efficiently play the role of leaders. In the case of Plachimada, as mentioned above, it was Mayilamma (a tribal woman) who organized the women and local people of the region to fight against Coca-Cola. The Sangam Vihar experience suggests that the suffering of women is much more when it comes to the constraints of water. Going back to the questions that I raised in the beginning, whether women perceive water differently and why they should do so gets an affirmative answer. The narratives mentioned above strongly suggest that shortage of water leads to traumatic situations for women as they have to deal with the household chores woven around water. To my mind, women perceive water as part of their collective consciousness and have a sense of belongingness/attachment.

In the summer season, the scarcity of water is a normal phenomenon in numerous districts of India and this summer due to the ongoing and worsening pandemic COVID-19, the demand for water to ensure cleanliness is all set to increase.  In such a condition, the challenges before Indian women, especially those who are poor, are likely to multiply in numerous ways.  For instance, many women who are hopeful about the ‘right to water’ to provide them better life-prospects have to console themselves with water ATMs6. Eventually, over the last few years ‘paying for water’ (be it drinking water or for other household needs) is becoming a ‘new normal’ across different sections of the Indian society. When it comes to poor women, they try to consume the least possible amount of water even to the extent of compromising their essential requirements.  With the situation going from bad to worse, it would not be an exaggeration to state that the number of ‘water martyrs’7 (especially women) will go up in due course.

This blog has attempted to highlight the simultaneity of the macro and the micro perspective on the politics of water. The range of issues vary from privatization in the water sector and representation of women to lack of access to water and their consequences. The writing makes use of intersectionality and standpoint theory to weave the themes of water, gender and class. These field-works enriched my life in numerous ways – I not only learnt the nuances of doing research with (not ‘on’) the marginalized sections of the society but also had a close experience of the glaring inequalities and complex equations of power dynamics shaped by class and gender across India. COVID-19 seems to have given us an opportunity to re-engage with the prevalent inequalities in the society but the question remains whether the State, as an actor, is to take responsibility to ensure water to people as part of their ‘right to water’ or we should get accustomed with ever increasing terminology around water such as water ATMs, water bill and water martyrs to name a few.


  1. Elizabeth Hirsh, Gary A. Olson and Sandra Harding, Starting from Marginalized Lives: A Conversation with Sandra Harding, in JAC, Vol. 15, No. 2, 1995, pp. 193-225, ‘standpoint theory entails an epistemological as well as ethical obligation on the part of dominant groups to theorize as rigorously as possible their own position as socially situated subjects of knowledge’ (p. 193).
  2. Ramzaan is the ninth month of Islamic calendar. It is the holy month for the followers of Islam. The Muslims keep fasting everyday throughout the month as a religious practice.
  3. Vajoo means to wash hands and feet before offering prayer to Allah (God).
  4. These structures not only help in retaining the rainwater but also in soil conservation and groundwater recharge.
  5. MGNREGA enacted in 2005 is run by the Ministry of Rural Development, Government of India.
  6. Water kiosks are being set up in different parts of India under public private partnership (PPP) model and they are named as Water ATMs where people can get water by paying for it. Most of these supported by the MNCs as part of their Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR).
  7. The author came across this concept in Sumana Roy’s fascinating story titled ‘Blind Water’ in Himal South Asian where a woman commits suicide due to her struggle around lack of access to water. One may read the story at https://www.himalmag.com/blind-water-sumana-roy-short-story-2019/. Otherwise also, on the basis of my years of research on water I can say that fight over struggle for water leading to violence of different kinds (abusive verbal exchange to physical fighting and even killing).